Taking the first step in an effort to increase its circulation five-fold and confirm its independent voice, the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles has shifted to a free distribution model.

The move became effective with the Jan. 7 issue and allowed the Journal to sever its 18-year reliance on the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, the non-profit umbrella charity that purchased 20,000 of the 23,000 copies printed each week for circulation among its constituents.

In becoming a free paper, the Journal's circulation doubled to 45,000 copies, distributed free at restaurants, coffee shops, stores and Jewish institutions. The shift, along with 6,000 paid home deliveries, has greatly extended the paper's reach, said Kimber Sax, the Journal's chief operating officer.

"We could expand to all of Simi Valley, Pasadena and down to South Bay, areas we could never reach before because of our limited distribution," she said. "Already, 16 percent of the people who received the paper through the Federation have subscribed, so they won't miss any copies."

Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman said severing the contractual relationship with the Federation would dispel any appearance of a lack of editorial independence.

"Most Jewish papers in major cities are supported by subscriptions, most of which are purchased by a single organization, usually a Jewish federation," he said.

"When the bulk of subscriptions come from a single organization, there's an appearance of dependence, even though we've always been independent. It's important for any publication to not appear to be owned by an organization."

The Journal has a goal of growing to 110,000 copies by 2006, which would make it the largest circulation Jewish newspaper in the country.
Reaching that goal will bring both added revenues and costs.

The U.S. Postal Service requires newspapers to pay first-class postage if the majority of its circulation is through free delivery.

And while that regulation will cost the Journal at least $100,000, Sax said, the paper's extended reach has already lured new advertisers and generated additional revenue.

"We've had a very heavy increase in education advertising," she said. "Secular schools are now more interested. We have one we've been seeking for no less than two years, which is now prepared to sign an annual contract based on reach in the Valley."

The Journal has begun to expand its staff and plans to hire two editors and a staff writer. It also hired a Web director in September who redesigned the publication's presence on the Internet.

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